The Gospel of Loki: A Pagan Perspective
The American Cover
First let me get to the pagan part before reviewing. A lot of what this novel did do once I gave it a chance (my first instincts were rather unkind) was make me think about things. A lot of disappointed reviewers asked why anyone would worship such weak Gods in the first place. They aren't immortal, since they aren't omniscient they are capable of being lured into traps, they often get in over their heads. But that is why we worship them. We want our Gods down in the trenches with us, failing and succeeding with us.
For the most part They love us. They don't judge, They don't claim to be all-knowing, and like us, Death awaits Them in the end if you take the Poetic Eddas as a Gospel. And yes, I know. Lokabrenna is a star, it never translated into gospel and even the actual Loki would blush to suggest such a thing.
But that's just it. This novel takes the Gods and casts Them as fictional characters. And once that part sunk in I was free to think about things. Such as do we demand too much out of our Gods, do we set Them up to fail, and if we do, what can be done to remedy that?
At least in this novel he gets sympathy for his failings. The character of Loki in the novel acts as he does because of birth circumstances and literally not knowing any better. He's a creature of Chaos become incarnate, and a dupe for a lot of the novel, though Lokeans have been saying for a long time that He always has been.
I don't see the novel winning the actual Loki, whether you see Him as God, Jotun or both, any new fans, but it certainly casts Him in a far kinder light than much of the heathen community would like to see.
Disclaimer: Our Gods Have No Copyright
People can copyright, oddly enough, their ideas about them, like Stan Lee's team giving birth to Loki and Thor and all the rest, which led to the movies, which led to Disney attacking fans selling cottage industry fan-made products online. These things are all neat, and part of our pop culture, but they have nothing to do with the actual Gods.
You can now plaster your home entirely with Marvel Loki goods, wear a scent named in his honor and engage in pretend worship of the Marvel Loki by burning a candle with his name on it. You can even join Loki's Army if you've a mind to. On any given day my response as a pagan varies, but the fact is, we have no copyright on our Gods. Back when I thought I was a nice little Catholic girl and the Gods started calling on me, I viewed their stories as belonging to everyone, and most folks still do.
And besides, good press or bad, every bit out there is a way for them to attract attention. Now on with our review....
Routing For Loki (Inspired by the Novel)
It Was A Good Read
OK, to be honest, my first reaction was not good. Remember, I'm pagan, whether you think I am nutty for that or not, I respect these Gods in a way the casual reader would not, so I'm a bit choosy as to how they are portrayed. And there are some definite retellings here, some of the stories have changed radically, I don't care what translation of the Poetic Eddas you've read, and I wasn't sure how much I liked that at first. I don't take the Eddas as Gospel by any means, but I do think they reflect how people viewed our Gods.
And while Loki does say it is his story and not Odin's, it would have been helpful to have a big fat disclaimer at the front of the book. Yes, mainly for nit-picky folks like me.
It's one thing to have a character say that and quite another to be a chapter or so in and wonder if you missed the part where Odin hung, spear in His side, suffering for knowledge. Was it omitted to make the story lean more in Loki's favor, or was it too disturbingly close to home for mass market consumption? I'd love to know as if you are going to put Gospel in the title and enrage some segments of the public you might as well go balls to the wall on other aspects that will drive them nutty.
But once I accepted that this novel is in no way the Eddas any more than The Lord of the Rings was, it was enjoyable. Loki turns out to be a character you can care about, though perhaps as someone who likes him in the first place I gave the character more sympathy than he deserves.
But from his lonely inception as Wildfire from lightning striking tinder to the end, he's always unloved and unwanted. His natural home in Chaos thrives on hate, and these alien beings, these self-made gods make him curious enough to defy Lord Surt and go above.
To be promptly bound into Odin's service and so the saga beings. In a way it reads like a tragedy. Had anyone truly cared at the times when it mattered Loki would have turned out differently. Instead of seeing a primal being that needed especial care, most of the characters saw only a means to an end. It's no wonder Loki hates the few people who do treat him kindly as it isn't the norm and he's already accepted the lie that he doesn't belong, that he's unloved and unwanted and from that the end is already written.
The Gospel of Loki by Joanne M. Harris
This is more of a reimagining of the Eddas than a straight retelling. Some parts have been vastly cleaned up, others added to, but it makes for a fun and enjoyable read. Some parts will break your heart, there are certain punishments included that are hard to read and you can only comfort yourself with knowing that justice and honor could be brutal things at one time and were taken rather seriously.
The Mean Review Part
Because I wouldn't be doing my job as a reviewer without it. While it comes down to my personal tastes, and I'll freely admit that, I didn't like certain aspects of the novel. Loki isn't a demon and the ideas of good and evil, Heaven and Hell in the Christian sense have no place in paganism, no matter what Snorri believed. Nor did some of the modern slang which grated a bit coming from characters set in an ancient Norse setting. It almost gave the novel a dated feel to me, and I'd have appreciated some more Nordic words. The novel doesn't really outshine the Marvel films in that respect and it had every chance to do so.
It did get some of the Norse mythology right in a roundabout way, but it almost felt like Wikipedia gained knowledge and not something an expert or scholar would do as most experts and scholars are sticklers for accuracy, and as we already pointed out Lokabrenna is in no way possible to translate into The Gospel of Loki.
Nor did Odin win the runes the way he does in the novel. I get it, it's a work of fiction, and a good one at that, but it's strange to put a claim that makes you expect painstaking accuracy and not deliver. The most laughable parts are when Thor walks across the Bifrost on repeated occasions, and only in the final stages of the novel are we told it depends on what Aspect he is in. Um, OK, if you say so.
Obviously I don't know where the author studied and maybe there are versions out there that prop up some of the things that happen. And again, it's a work of fiction and I don't think the Norse Gods are any more real to the writer than Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. That said, it's a good read.
If you like Loki you may have to hang on as he only becomes a sympathetic character towards the latter half of the novel, but it's as decent an attempt as any to take such a complex character and make him believable and appealing to the masses. He's flatfooted at times, not as wily as he should be, but somehow all the more lovable for it because he just doesn't know any better.
For all his whining and excuses and shifting blame he is honest. Mostly.
Don't Take My Word For It
The Nice Review Part
If you can watch Santa Claus Conquers the Martians and not implode because it doesn't have the birth of Christ, you can read this novel and not implode, as, let's face it, you are reading it for Loki, and pretty much Loki alone and he is a wonderfully appealing character in the latter half of the novel.
Loki just doesn't understand love, and that's the problem. No one ever taught him as a child about gentleness and empathy and it's one thing to be fawned over, and quite another to be taught the right emotional responses. He's wild, afraid and sees these new things, emotions, as an infection for a large part of the novel, claiming to have never suffered them before.
You darn well get the idea he did, that he was lonely so he sought out the company of the gods, having only a baby's understanding of the world. So of course he is duped. There's no one to teach him to look out for himself as everyone he knows has a vested interest in using him, loving Loki or not.
You may feel like cuddling him at some of the low points as his punishments are like smacking an innocent child. The child feels pain, and fear and unloved. The child doesn't understand even remotely why they are being hit or why you suddenly hate them and poor Loki doesn't either.
Even in the end he's truly surprised, there's enough innocence in him to be surprised. And a longing to be loved and part of the in crowd. And in short, he's a lot like most humans on any given day. We act as we do through our natures, not to willingly defy the gods. We are what we are and that we are that, don't blame us.
Which brings us back to the pagan part of the review. We love our Gods, knowing these stories. We know they weren't and still aren't all that big on monogamy for Gods or Goddesses, we know they can be warlike at times, loving at others. Loki among modern pagans is as feared as he is loved, sometimes by the same people. He isn't a bad God, He isn't evil. But He is a Trickster and His lessons can be frightening and hard at times. Or they can be deceptively simple like a novel that asks exactly how much more do we demand of Loki than He's already give us, and when will He, the actual Loki, be loved for who He truly is?
To show His sense of humor, this necklace arrived in the mail the same day I picked up the novel from the library. I get the distinct feeling Loki was laughing at me.
What's Your Take?
If you read the novel, what's your reaction?
- The Poetic Edda Index
The Poetic Edda, tr. by Henry Adams Bellows, , full text etext at sacred-texts.com